Breast, Bottle, Advocate

This is the official breast versus bottle post that has been rattling around my head for months.  If you’re not interested, I get it…see you Monday.

advocate bar - IN USE

I’m not a breastfeeding advocate. 

I’m not a formula feeding advocate. 

I’m an advocate for women and their choices.

Since becoming a formula-feeding mom I have had so many eye opening experiences about the mommy wars people talk about.  My first was the war within myself and the way in which I judged people prior to being a mom myself.  But being five months into this journey, it’s important to me to speak up for all of the moms–including the formula feeding moms who are demonized and the breastfeeding moms who are shunned from public view–and speak in one clear voice for those who find themselves somewhere in the middle of it all wondering what in the hell to do.

At least three times in the past two days, different people have posted on forums that I am part of online about how they are having trouble breastfeeding and the immense guilt they feel over it.  And every single time the first thing that comes out of people’s comments is a litany of suggestions that other mothers assume have not been tried.  Lactation consultants. La Leche Leauge.  Lactation cookies.  Fenugreek.  Blessed Thistle.  Howling at the moon.  You name it, it’s been suggested.  And quite honestly, very few of those mothers asked for suggestions…they asked for support.  As someone who has had to make that transition from the world of breastfeeding to the world of formula feeding, the support is hard to find.

I went through my entire pregnancy thinking that my kids would never taste a drop of formula in their lives.  I was told that I had to breastfeed to be a good mother and I was going to be a good mother come hell or high water.  I took a breastfeeding class.  I read books.  I went to websites.  I investigated nursing clothing and accessories.  I was prepared.

Prepared for everything except the fact that my body would not make enough milk to sustain one baby let alone the two I had to feed.

All of us breastfeeding dropouts speak in the same hushed tones in the formula aisle and in the living rooms of our homes.  We start out by bravely telling a fellow mom that breastfeeding “didn’t really work for us” and that we “really tried hard!” and when they say it didn’t work for them either we both let out a huge sigh of relief like we’re talking about the Resistance in occupied France.  Then we commiserate and talk about formula feeding issues and almost always talk about how much guilt we had for being failures.

Listen to me: we are talking about mothers who care enough about their kids to be worried about them and feed them with love yet who feel guilty because they aren’t able to breastfeed.  What kind of world do we live in anyhow?

Stop telling me that in order to be a whole woman or a good mom that I need to breast feed. My self-worth is not contingent upon my breasts.  Never has been.  Never will be. Never should be.  It’s great if you can.  It’s great if you can’t.

Formula feeding has a shady past, no doubt.  It was marketed to drive mothers to spend money they didn’t need to on their kids and women were told that their natural ability to breastfeed was inferior to powder in a can.  That is wrong for so many reasons.  But we’ve swung so far in the opposite direction now that instead of providing new mothers feeding support in general, we’re providing them with a ton of breastfeeding information (not enough actual hands on support, though…I’ll vouch for that) and then demonizing them if they cannot or (gasp!) choose not to breast feed.  Meanwhile, those mothers who aren’t breastfeeding for whatever reason have no idea bout different formulas, different bottles, methods for preparing and cleaning and so on.  I took a day long class on breastfeeding and then there were lactation consultants that came to my room each day at the hospital.  I was not once told about formula and the differences and how to use it properly.  Not once.  I was handed some bottles and told “Oh, it’s Similac month” as the nurse walked out the door.

That was it.  That was the extent of my formula feeding education.

Wow. Thanks?


Now the debate can and should rage on in the medical community about the benefits of breastfeeding and–yes, there are some–benefits of formula feeding for the development of babies.  But here’s what I’ve learned as a purveyor of scientific data and lover of charts and research methods since I had these problems with breastfeeding: the vast majority (at least 75%) of the research out there on breastfeeding and the long term effects on children versus formula feeding are all about correlation and not about causation.  Any first year grad student could point out problems with the study design including but not limited to: sample size, duration of study, confounding variables, family structure, genetics, socioeconomic status and so much more.

Breastfeeding is great. It’s a great way to feed your children and it has many benefits–some of which science has figured out and some of which it can figure out in the future.  But formula feeding has benefits too.  Partners can help.  Mothers can have choices about their bodies.  Mothers can go back to work and not have to worry about having a job that allows for pumping.  And in situations where food allergies and intolerance are an issue for the infant, formula can provide the necessary nutrients in a hypoallergenic package that breast milk sometimes cannot do.

I didn’t take issue with Mayor Bloomberg taking formula gift bags out of the hospitals in New York City before.  I kind of do now.  Because as someone who prepared to exclusively breast feed and then brought home two hungry newborns, we scrambled to make choices about formula and had nothing on hand.  Nothing.  So that gift bag would have made that first day a lot easier on us.  Even if it never got used.

There are also so many women who find breastfeeding repulsive. Who want to hide women away from doing it in public.  To me, that’s just as wrong as making formula feeding moms speak in hushed voices.  We love breasts being in our faces all the time…as long as they’re not being used for what nature’s intended purpose.  How wrong is that? Every time we make a comment about a breastfeeding mom in public, we’re reproducing the misogyny that women are nothing but veiled sex objects and it’s objectionable to see a breast in any other form.  No one is forcing you to look at it just as no one is forcing you to look at my baby’s bottle.  Would I personally prefer to do it somewhere else or under a cover? Sure. Do I think everyone needs to make that choice in all settings?  Not really.

It is hard enough being a mom.  It really is. People say “oh you don’t know until you have kids.”  It’s not that you don’t know it’s hard. I think all people recognize that.  They just don’t get what parts of it are hard.  No one imagines the immense pressure to be a great parent is part of that burden.  We shouldn’t add to it by demonizing those who formula feed or those who breastfeed in any way shape or form.

My suggestions are simple:

1.  Add a class for infant feeding and nutrition that talks about breast feeding and formula feeding and is open to both.

2.  Add feeding consultants at hospitals that are knowledgeable about formula but not paid for by the formula companies.  Also beef up the lactation consultants–the ones I had weren’t very good at all.  Probably wasn’t the reason why it didn’t work for me but it certainly didn’t help just to be told to “keep up the good work!” when I was sitting there crying out for help.

3.  Stop talking in hushed tones if you bottle feed.  Stop hiding your nursing if you breast feed.  You don’t have to tell your life story to strangers and you don’t have to whip out your boob in the middle of the mall…though both would be fine by me.  But don’t lurk in the shadows because the system is set up that way. To hell with the system.


4.  For the love of God, stop condemning the choices of others about how they feed their kids as long as their kids are getting fed and are loved.


Helpful resources:

For breastfeeding moms: the best resource I found was Kellymom.  I will say, though, that while the information is not presented with bias, there is a lack of information about transitioning out of breastfeeding if it doesn’t work for you. It’s kind of assumed that it will work.   The La Leche League site is useful but is very judgmental so use it with a grain of salt…or a bucket of salt.  Just get some salt when you sit down and use it.  Sadly, they do have all of the best info about specific breastfeeding issues out there and the cost of admission is total judgment.  So I won’t link to them.

For formula feeding moms: the best resources for me are Fearless Formula Feeder and Bottle Babies (which is worldwide, so formula information is sometimes hard to wade through).  The site and the Facebook page in particular have been lifesavers.  I’m not even exaggerating when I say that.


And the most important question of all is…

What has your experience been and what did you need when you were feeding your infant?




13 comments for “Breast, Bottle, Advocate

  1. Megg
    June 13, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    Of course, I can’t comment on my own personal experience (tho, if I ever were to have kids, they’d be formula fed by neceddity), I do have several comments in general:

    1) This, to me, seems like an obvious extension of a woman’s right to choose. She can choose to have the baby or not. Once she has it, she can choose to bottlefeed or she can choose to breastfeed. I’m not sure how long formula has been produced, but, at this point, either way, her kid is getting good quality nutrition.

    2) I am living, breathing proof that bottlefeeding a kid does not make them stupid, or sick, or what have you. And I’m not the only one. This isn’t some crazy experiment — bottlefed babies have been growing up into healthy, productive adults for a LONG time now. Why are we still arguing this?

    I read a lot of comments like yours on my mastectomy support site – women who chose to have a child post-mastectomy were being shamed for bottle feeding. If it were me, I’d just point out that silicone isn’t very nutritive, and move on. But, I can see how hurtful it would be. In a world where magazines rate famous mothers on how good they are, it’s got to be tough to not feel like you’re being judged as a parent at every turn.

    • kim
      June 13, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      I knew you would have a great take on this. Not just because of your personal story but because you’re wicked smart. And that just proves that formula fed kids can be wicked smart.

      This is an obvious extension of a woman’s right to choose. Oddly enough, a lot of pressure comes from self-proclaimed feminists that do not have a clue what feminism is really about. Feminism is about choices and the choice to formula feed is a choice that should be supported. Just as a choice to abort, carry to term and raise or carry to term and adopt out.

      What gets me is that a lot of these lactivists (as they call themselves) would rather see a woman give their child unscreened donor milk than formula. Unscreened in any way. To me, that’s so risky.

      • Megg
        June 13, 2013 at 3:26 pm

        Unscreened milk?!?! I had no idea, and I am horrified by that idea! Any biological fluid can carry disease – it’s a pretty well-documented fact. So, yeah, go ahead and give your baby hepatitis — at least you didn’t stoop to formula feeding! *snark, snark*

        I’m not denying that the formula industry has a checkered past, but, again, it’s not like baby formula is some newfangled contraption that no one’s heard of. There’s at least 33 years of real-world usage that’s happened, and that means that there’s 33 years (+) of data points to support formula being a safe choice for a baby.

        I honestly believe that once you get a kid to the solid foods stage, it all evens out. How many of these “lactivists” (that nickname makes me want to punch a baby) are going to stuff their kids full of fries and grease later in life because it’s easy — a lot, would be my guess. Balanced nutrition, either from formula or breastmilk at first, then from a nice mix of fruits, veggies, etc. once they’re older, is what’s important.

        P.S. I may be wicked smart, but apparently I can’t spell necessity :) Also, when I read “wicked smart” it sounds like “wicked smaaaaaaaaht” in my head, since we live so close to Baaaaaahston :)

        • kim
          June 17, 2013 at 9:05 pm

          Yes, unscreened. I honestly thought about that the other day and I know it was done back in the day with wet nurses…but so was a lot of shit we woudn’t dare do today. There’s a line. And for me, that’s the line…

          Even if i had a lactating full-biological sister available and willing to provide me with that, I’m not sure I’d take it.

          A lot of lactivists are good nutrition supporters. I will say that. And the term, like all terms, can be used lovingly and begrudgingly. But the ones that are all about forcing the breast…well, that just doesn’t make sense to me in a world where options are available.

  2. Katie
    June 13, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I am a happy lactictivist. I also have very enthusiastic milk glands and a job that gives me both plenty of time off and a private office with lots of time to pump. So I am a very advantaged lactivist who recognizes that, sadly, our country sucks when it comes to really enabling women who can physically breastfeed, be able to breastfeed.

    We are all in good company, however. Skip around the historical record and you will find women being vilified for 1.) using a wet nurse, 2.) using the wrong kind of wet nurse, and 3.) not using a wet nurse. Getting angry at women for making sure babies are fed is not by any means a new thing.

    • kim
      June 13, 2013 at 9:46 pm

      I had this well thought out comment and my goddamn computer was all NEED AN UPDATE. And I clicked on it. There goes my comment.

      So you’re getting the tired version…

      1. You’re not the kind of lactivist I am talking about above. You supported me better than most anyone. Hell, you even sent me coupons for formula. And told me to take the LLL website with a grain of salt. You were the Kellymom of lactivists. A good one.

      2. I find this thing about wet nurses and whatnot interesting. Is there a book about this? Because there should be. Get on that. I want you to write it. In all of your spare time.

      Our country sucks when it comes to enabling women to do anything. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t and then criticized every step of the way.

      If we all took the energy we put into criticizing each other for this one issue–just this one–we could cure really big problems. I mean BIG.

  3. June 15, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    You’re always so spot on. I struggled a lot to breastfeed in the beginning, and I was devastated that I might have to give my kid formula. The crazy thing is that I’ve always been a huge advocate of not judging one way or the other. As someone who always assumed I’d adopt someday, I knew that if I adopted an infant I couldn’t give it breast milk, and so I was always OK with the idea of formula. Yet when the time came that I was faced with possibly having to give my birthed child formula, I was so upset. I analyzed this later and realized that the “breast is best” people got so far in my head with my realizing it, that when I was vulnerable, that’s what came out. In retrospect, it kind of pisses me off.

    • kim
      June 17, 2013 at 9:07 pm

      the whole adoption angle is one i didn’t consider when writing this. but it is so true. there are, though, women who try and relactate…essentially prompt the body through herbs and hormones to lactate…for adopted children. that doesn’t seem worth it to me. or a good idea even.

      is breastmilk great? yes. but there’s more to life than food.

  4. Ms TC
    June 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    Thank God I wasn’t on message boards and reading blogs when I had Daughter 10 1/2 years ago. Because I would have stressed out even more over this issue. As I told you months ago, I *tried* breastfeeding Daughter when she was born. Mostly because the nurses at the hospital tried shaming me into doing it, and partly because I knew it was something I SHOULD try to do. Truth be told, I wasn’t all RAH-RAH about it, and when I got home, I got a breast pump. For about 6 weeks, I mostly fed Daughter breast milk, but it was an uphill battle. I pumped for what felt like hours, only to get a few ounces. I supplemented with formula and didn’t feel guilty about it. After the first 6 weeks–I was like “fuck this shit” and she became a formula bottle. And I still didn’t feel guilty about it. You know why? Because she was fed and healthy and that’s all a mom can do.

    I wasn’t breastfed, but my brother was. And you know how it goes with that. :)

    I wish I could tell every pregnant woman that it DOESN’T MATTER how you feed your baby, just FEED THE BABY. Being a first-time mom is stressful enough. You don’t need the pressure of strangers added on to the overwhelming bullshit you have to deal with — body changes, life changes — FUCK WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK.

    Seriously. They can all line up and kiss my big fat ass.

    • kim
      June 17, 2013 at 9:08 pm

      thankfully i was kind of head-in-the-clouds in my postpartum weeks enough that while i was stressed, it was that kind of stress where you know you’re stressed and you feel it but you’re simultaneously above it. hard to explain. all i know is that once i moved to formula full time, i felt so much better about life and so much better about motherhood.

  5. June 19, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I don’t have much to add, being that I am not a mother, but as I have 2 coworkers who have given birth in the last month, and 1 that is in labor as I type this (!!), I’ve been hearing a bit about everything baby related. All the points above are great. I just wanted to say that the hospital that 2 of these co-workers delivered in does have some infant feeding/nutrition class that talks about both, apparently pretty equally. So…there is hope! If we can have such a class in Texas, there is hope for the rest of you!

    I mean really, if everyone would just mind their own business when it came to other peoples’ healthy, legitimate choices, everyone could be a lot happier!

    • kim
      July 3, 2013 at 10:22 am

      There is hope and I’m so happy to hear that there is a more well rounded option for women out there.

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